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DeVos Family Behind School Privatization Push Disguised as “Choice”

Posted by Phoenix Woman on May 9, 2011


Another day, another unearthed set of right-wing billionaires out to destroy the foundations of America.

You’ve heard of the Koch brothers, Charles and David, and their father Fred (who helped found and fund the John Birch Society). Now meet the family behind Amway, Blackwater (now Xe) and the decades-long plot — in the name of vouchers and “school choice” — to destroy free public education in the United States.

I speak of the DeVos Family:

The decades-long campaign to end public education is propelled by the super-wealthy, right-wing DeVos family. Betsy Prince DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of the notorious private military contractor Blackwater USA (now Xe), and wife of Dick DeVos, son of the co-founder of Amway, the multi-tiered home products business.

(Let me stop right there and urge you, unless the name “Erik Prince” is already burned irrevocably into your memory, to go check out this article in The Nation to find out a bit more about him. You can also go here and here to learn more about this dangerously rich, dangerously militant Dominionist Rushdoonyite Christian. And if you don’t know who R.J. Rushdoony is, go here first.)

So what have the DeVoses and their buddies been doing? Stuff like this:

Whatever they may say about giving poor students a leg up, their real priority is nothing short of the total dismantling of our public educational institutions, and they’ve admitted as much. Cato Institute founder Ed Crane and other conservative think tank leaders have signed the Public Proclamation to Separate School and State, which reads in part that signing on, “Announces to the world your commitment to end involvement by local, state, and federal government from education.”

But Americans don’t want their schools dismantled. So privatization advocates have recognized that it’s not politically viable to openly push for full privatization and have resigned themselves to incrementally dismantling public school systems. The think tanks’ weapon of choice is school vouchers.

Vouchers are funded with public school dollars but are used to pay for students to attend private and parochial (religious-affiliated) schools. The idea was introduced in the 1950s by the high priest of free-market fundamentalism, Milton Friedman, who also made the real goal of the voucher movement clear: “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a free-market system.” The quote is in a 1995 Cato Institute briefing paper titled “Public Schools: Make Them Private.”

Joseph Bast, president of Heartland Institute, stated in 1997, “Like most other conservatives and libertarians, we see vouchers as a major step toward the complete privatization of schooling. In fact, after careful study, we have come to the conclusion that they are the only way to dismantle the current socialist regime.” Bast added, “Government schools will diminish in enrollment and thus in number as parents shift their loyalty and vouchers to superior-performing private schools.”

But Bast’s lofty goals have not panned out. That’s because, quite simply, voucher programs do not work.

That’s right, gang: If the goal is to do a better job of educating kids, voucher programs do not work. Milwaukee’s had a voucher program for twenty years, and even when the statistics are adjusted for socioeconomic status, the kids in the Milwaukee voucher program perform at or under the level of the kids in the regular public-school system. Same goes for the kids in Cleveland’s voucher program.

So why, if vouchers don’t work, they’re still being pushed?

Well, while they don’t work at education, they do work at destroying teachers’ unions and re-segregating schools:

School vouchers drew little public interest until Brown v. Board of Education and the court-ordered desegregation of public schools. Southern states devised voucher schemes for students to leave public schools and take the public funding with them.

Author Kevin Michael Kreuse explains how this plan was supposed to work in White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. “At the heart of the plan to defend school segregation, for instance, stood a revolutionary scheme called the ‘private-school plan.’ In 1953, a full year before Brown, Governor Talmadge advanced a constitutional amendment giving the General Assembly the power to privatize the state’s entire system of public education. In the event of court-ordered desegregation, school buildings would be closed, and students would receive grants to attend private, segregated schools.”

Given the racist origins of vouchers, advocates of privatization have had to do two things: obscure the fact that the pro-privatization movement is backed primarily by white conservatives, and emphasize the support of African American and Democratic lawmakers where it exists. 

In 2000, Howard Fuller founded the Black Alliance for Education Options. The group was largely funded by John Walton and the Bradley Foundation. Walton, a son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, contributed millions to the Betsy DeVos-led All Children Matter organization, including a bequest after his death in a plane crash in 2004. 

A report by People for the American Way questions whose interest was being served in the partnership between the Alliance and conservative foundations. The summary of the report reads, “Over the past nine months, millions of Americans have seen lavishly produced TV ads featuring African American parents talking about school vouchers. These ads and their sponsor, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), portray vouchers as an effort to help low-income kids. But a new report explores the money trail behind BAEO, finding that it leads directly to a handful of wealthy right-wing foundations and individuals that have a deep agenda — not only supporting the school voucher movement, but also backing anti-affirmative action campaigns and other efforts that African American organizations have opposed or considered offensive.”

Black was more blunt, describing vouchers as “The Right’s Final Answer to Brown” and tracking the history of vouchers from die-hard segregationists to the Heritage Foundation’s attempt to attach vouchers to federal legislation in 1981. The article stated, “The problem was, vouchers were still firmly (and correctly) associated with die-hard segregationists. Memories of white “massive resistance” to integration remained fresh, especially among blacks, who had never demanded vouchers — not even once in all of the tens of thousands of demonstrations over the previous three decades.”

Funny how this sort of thing never seems to make the pages of the same publications touting Waiting for Superman. Then again, those publications haven’t been rushing to mention that Michelle Rhee, the film’s heroine, has been debunked to hell and back.

(Crossposted to Renaissance Post.)

5 Responses to “DeVos Family Behind School Privatization Push Disguised as “Choice””

  1. […] DeVos Family Behind School Privatization Push Disguised as “Choice” (via Mercury Rising 鳯女) 09 May Another day, another unearthed set of right-wing billionaires out to destroy the foundations of America. You've heard of the Koch brothers, Charles and David, and their father Fred (who helped found and fund the John Birch Society). Now meet the family behind Amway, Blackwater (now Xe) and the decades-long plot — in the name of vouchers and "school choice" — to destroy free public education in the United States. I speak of the DeVos Family: The … Read More […]

  2. MEC said

    Betsy DeVos has long been a zealous advocate of privatizing education. School vouchers are unconstitutional in Michigan, so she pushed to get a ballot initiative in 2000 in spite of opposition from other Republican leaders. That initiative failed 70-30.

  3. Charles II said

    “multi-tiered home products business”

    This particular example of mutilation of the English language is actually an example of exactly how free speech is in America. This is an administrative court-ordered phrase, ordered only because the DeVos family is so rich and litigious that even in the 1970s it was able to avoid being labeled a “pyramid scheme,” which they had written into federal case law in 2001. Anyone who has had a friend or family member fall into the delicate clutches of Amway/Quixtar can tell you whether they agree or not.

    • jo6pac said

      Yep, went to one of these cheer leading meeting back then and walked away with that very thought.

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